Fuku Musume (福娘): Behind the Scene of Osaka's Touka Ebisu Festival (十日戎) - Vikingess Voyages

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fuku Musume (福娘): Behind the Scene of Osaka's Touka Ebisu Festival (十日戎)

The Imamiya Ebisu Jinja shrine (今宮戎神社) in Osaka, where the Tōka-Ebisu Festival (十日戎) takes place 
In the end of last year I was elected as one of 50 girls (out of almost 3000 applicants) to serve as a shrine maiden in the Imamiya Ebisu Jinja - shrine in Osaka during the famous Tōka Ebisu Festival which is being held from the 9th until the 11th of January. But it didn't end there. In fact, out of the 50 elected girls there was another round of competition where I was among the 4 girls who got the honor of representing the Fuku Musume girls as a so-called Fukumusume Daihyo (福娘代表, meaning Fukumusume Representative).
Me in front of a Tōka-Ebisu poster

Just being elected as a Fuku Musume in itelf is however a great honor, so you can imagine I was happy..! The Tōka-Ebisu festival is one of the most famous festivals in Osaka, and it attracts as many as a million visitors each year. Not too surprising, considering that the festival has been celebrated more or less annually since the Edo-period (Between the 17th and 19th Century).
In this blogpost I'm going to write about my experiences during the Tōka-Ebisu Festival.
Some of the items being sold at the festival
Imamiya Ebisu decorated with lanterns and pictures
But first, a little bit of background information. This festival is celebrated to honor the god of good fortune, known as Ebisu or Ebessan among people from Osaka. In order to get luck for their businesses and loads of money in the following year, a lot of people find their way to the shrine during these three days. Our job as Fuku Musume was to sell them lucky charms, which we then attached to branches of bamboo which the visitors had gotten for free in the shrine area before approaching us. Of course you are expected to speak to the customers in polite Japanese, preferably Keigo. There are however some set phrases which are not being used in a normal store; for instance you can greet the visitors with "yō omairi desu" instead of the commonly used "irasshaimase", and when they leave you simply make this phrase into past tense (yō omairi deshita).

Visitors coming to buy lucky charms
The days were pretty long: we had to meet at 8:30 in the morning and then we worked almost non-stop until 9 in the evening. That is to say, we did get one lunch- and one dinner break a day though, both 20 minutes long. Which is quite short and stressful, since it included both the time to eat and necessary toilet breaks. The Eboshi-hat and the cape are considered holy, so you have to remove them before you can use the bathroom or go to lunch, and it usually takes some time getting everything both on and off. Further, there are only 3 toilets, and often a line of girls who wants to use them. And trust me; waiting in line does not give you extra minutes for your lunch breaks. In other words, I'm pretty sure it is virtually impossible to keep the time limit unless you refrain from eating most of your bento. Fortunately they are not that strict with the exchange students group, but for the Japanese girls they are taking the time and keeping a record of the girls, covering all their meals on a big board. Either you enter as an exchange student or in the same group as the Japanese girls you better be prepared to eat fast..!
Cameras ready!
The first two days went by pretty fast; but as a Representative Fuku Musume (福娘代表) I got a couple of extra breaks to participate in TV interviews. Lucky! I mean, although it is fun with the work in general, the day can be a bit long since you basically do the same all day. And of course being interviewed is fun too^^.. The only difference I noticed in the work between Daihyou Fuku Musume and the other Fuku Musume girls is basically that the four Daihyou girls are the ones who talks with the press.
From one of the Fuku Musume TV interviews
On the second day they are also having a palanquin parade called Hoekago (宝恵駕籠行列), which are one of the highlights of the festival. However, unfortunately only the Japanese Fuku Musume girls got to participate in the big parade; us exchange students had a normal working day at the shrine.
Attaching lucky charms to a bamboo branch
I did meet a lot of friendly and interesting people during the 3 days of the festival. Some of my friends who came to visit me in the shrine could however not find me because of all the people (most likely I must have been on a lunch break or something, we are naturally not allowed to carry mobile phones during the working day so it's not exactly easy to contact people).. But besides our friends who came to support us, there were a lot of people who wanted to take pictures of us or shake our hands. Some people had seen me on TV and actually came only because they wanted to see me. One guy asked me where I come from, and when I answered that I am Norwegian he told me that it was perfect, because he was running an Italian restaurant.. Haha.. Well, at least I'm from the right continent! ;p In short, there is a lot going on during the three days of the festival! The last day I must admit was a bit long though, most of all because it was freaking cold! And because we did not do any interviews either.. The other days there were also a lot more people, so we did not really have time to get bored.
Anyway, here are some of my photos taken backstage:
Obi (帯)
Seen from the side. The hat is called an Eboshi (烏帽子)
The Fuku Musume girls waiting for their turn to start working
As foreigners we are quite lucky, because they have assistants helping us put on our kimonos..!!
The process of putting on the kimono sure takes time! Luckily there are some places where they offer courses in how to put kimonos on, and I definately think I should join one of those courses..
Some of the assistants going through the days schedule etc.
Group picture time!
Most of the Ristumeikan-組
The day might be long, but when you have people who are there for you it makes the time go by faster.
For those of you who might be interested in applying next year, all I can say is that you have to be prepared to work hard. It might be quite stressful at times, and the days are certainly quite long, but I promise you will have a lot of fun too! Zehi gambatte kudasai:)


Stands outside the shrine area selling lucky items

Recommended Hotels in Osaka

Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel
Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel
Superhotel Lohas Honmachi
Superhotel Lohas Honmachi
Khaosan World Namba
Khaosan World Namba
The St. Regis Osaka Hotel
The St. Regis Osaka Hotel

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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